The Bumbys, as they are known, are not rock stars, yet their gigs can be just as electrifying. Instead of drums and guitars, “Gill” and “Jill” bang away on typewriters, pecking out “fair and honest appraisals of your appearance” to anyone brave enough to stand in front of their makeshift table. A hit on the fashion- and art- world event circuit — Madewell, Levi’s, and Art Basel Miami have all made it on to their roster — the New York-based pair operate anonymously behind visage-swallowing bandanas and sunglasses, delivering spur-of-the-moment, almost poetic missives to eager lines of strangers about their personal style. The process can be gut-wrenching or unbelievably thrilling, depending on your disposition, but one thing is for sure: It’s a hell of a party trick, not to mention captivating performance art. We caught up with the duo to discuss their ratings system, summer trends, and when and if they plan to reveal themselves.
So how does one get into the personal appearance appraisal business?
Gill: While I was in college, around 2006, I saw somebody doing something somewhat similar. Then in New York, I just had the idea to just try it around on the street. I tried it in Union Square a few times and had a run-in with the police, so from there I moved to Bedford Avenue, and it was sort of a success. People just had a reaction to it, and from there it’s just grown and grown.
Jill, how did you get involved?
Jill: I had heard about Gill doing this on the streets of Williamsburg, and one of my friends was like, “You have to get Bumby’d!” It was really weird; he was convinced that I should join the act. So I got Bumby’d at an art gallery and I was like, “I want in.”
What’s your favorite kind of crowd?
Gill: Anywhere where there’s people who are interesting and take risks — it’s easier to tell stories about people like that.
Jill: Yeah, it’s definitely better to do something awful with your outfit and your personality than nothing at all — middle of the road, that’s always bad. Also, I wrote down a quote for you: "Alec Friedman and his wife Skye Parrot of Dossier are so inspiring and hot. Alec Friedman is the Anderson Cooper of the creative directing world." And I like townies and people who look like they’re in a Bill Eggleston photograph.
Okay, so how does it feel to know that people are dressing up for you?
Gill: I think people just want to know that they’re doing okay, regardless of whatever they’re wearing even if they don’t dress up.
Jill: Well, it used to be all about the person’s inner light for me, but this year’s theme is that it’s your goddamn responsibility to make an effort when you go out in public. It’s like, life is just aesthetics, and the way you present yourself to the world is fucking important. Most people don’t make that effort. Especially men — there’s only so many khakis and blue oxford shirts that we can stomach before we want to just get up and leave.
Yet Bumbys lore is that you two don’t usually give a lower rating than an 8, out of scale of 1-10.
Gill: It has happened before. People take that number, like, really really to heart, which is sort of weird because it’s the most arbitrary part of it. Like, there’s way more thought put into the story we tell, but they go right to the bottom and they’re like, “What did I get?” It’s like their grade on life, and you don’t want to have to tell somebody that they’re a C-minus in life.
Jill: But a lot of people think we’re too kind, or too nice, or too giving, but it’s just that you don’t really hear about the times when I can’t help but point out that someone’s beard is obnoxious, that I can only think of horrible token-character identifiers, which is not very sexy. Sometimes I say that and guys have gotten really upset, but they’re not going to tell the world.
What have been some of your craziest gigs?
Jill: People have gotten really physical, like if they’re really drunk and they’re really angry, they’ll just get really out of hand.
Gill: We did this one party at this fancy hotel in downtown Boston, and at the beginning of it these people were really just sort of conservative and tight-lipped and New England-y. But as soon as they got a few drinks in them, they just turned into these animals. And they were like, “Show me your face! I can’t believe I only got an 8.5!” It was insanity and I had to yell for somebody to get Jill out of there. Afterward, I just unplugged and ran out. It was insanity.
That sounds rather intense.
Gill: And there was this one party where there was an ambush at the front table and they had to get a bouncer to just be like, “Yo, yo, step back!”
Jill: It was hilarious. The security guy had to put himself in between the Bumbys and the crowd. We were really into it, we were like Led Zeppelin at the time, you know like, “Don’t hurt anybody, just be cool with the crowd.” I guess it was more like the Rolling Stones at Altamont.
What are you looking for when you do an appraisal?
Jill: It’s the energy that a person gives off, their eyes, and how nervous or insecure they are, their posture — also, if you immediately think of a song or a movie scene or a celebrity, or if they ARE a celebrity. It’s just stream of conscious, totally unedited, yet kind of narrative writing. What you’re getting is one of a kind, it’s your first impression on Jill Bumby — bam!
Gill: And you don’t have a lot of time to think — the person steps up and the first thing that goes through your mind, you just have to start writing. So it’s sort of hard to dictate that.
What sort of trends have you been seeing this summer?
Jill: On the ladies: Liberty prints, neon, and awful platform shoes. I don’t like the flatform. But it’s more just like how the lady presents it, I guess.
Gill: A lot of cutoff shorts, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Jill: Ugh! Like the pocket coming out of the bottom Britney shorts? Don’t do that. Ever. It’s rude!
If the Bumbys were going to Bumby the Bumbys, what would their appraisal be?
Jill: I know what Gill would say, because he says this all the time to his friends. He’s always like, “You know you’re fucking awesome, so just go out there and do it!”
Gill: I would just want them to stand in front of me and I would have to write a story about them, right then and there. Sometimes people will say “All right, just do one for me right now,” and I’m like, “How am I supposed to do one for you right now? I know you.” It has to be that gut instantaneous reaction of when you first see someone and you have no idea who they are.
What have you learned about people in general from doing this?
Jill: That people are incredibly self-conscious as a rule and models are always calm and good posers. Seriously, though, most people, even if they’re incredibly beautiful or really good-looking in every way, they’ll just be so freaked out by the process.
Gill: People sort of say a lot just by the way they carry themselves and deal with those first couple of minutes of standing there while you write. They have these coping mechanisms. Some talk, some fidget — it’s very telling. Like, there’s the loud-mouth talker — it’s always these older guys that just hate themselves and they’ll just yammer on and on because they can’t take the silence.
Why do you do this anonymously?
Gill: It makes it more like a one-way street so it’s not really about me, it’s more about you.
Will you guys continue if you’re outed?
Jill: I don’t’ think we’ll be outed. I don’t think anyone really gives a shit.
Gill: Yeah, if somebody really cared, they could find out, but it’s not really that important.
Jill: But we will probably reveal ourselves nude.
But with the masks and wig intact?